More than 90% of beer is water and it’s this that will make the beer unique. Different styles of beer require different water profiles, so the first thing is to get a sample tested and a report on the water being used to brew. The effect water will have on brewing will be identified by six main ions; carbonate, sodium, chloride, sulphate, calcium and magnesium.
On the West Barsham Estate we brew our beer using water from our own bore hole.
Maris Otter is a 2 row winter variety of barley and is the main cereal ingredient in our beers. The variety was originally bred and introduced in 1966 by Dr G D H Bell in Cambridge. It was a great barley for English cask conditioned ales but went into decline as it came up against cross pollination issues.
In 1991 a consortium was formed between H Banham Ltd, just down the road from us in Norfolk, and Robin Appel Ltd in Hampshire, which approached PBI, who owned Maris Otter. Their objective was, to bring the variety back and readily available to the real ale market once again. This consortium bought the sole right to Market Maris otter seed.
In 2002 Maris Otter was bought outright by H Banham Ltd and Robin Appel Ltd who have continued to improve the variety. We chose to use Maris Otter in these beers as it is a grain producing low levels of nitrogen, its thin skins absorb the water easily and it is a very reliable grain to brew with. It is no coincidence that here at West Barsham we grow Maris Otter, and other varieties of winter and spring barley. The Maris Otter goes for malting. The seed, the field, the maltings and the brewery all sit within 5 miles of each other.
The first documented use of hops being used in beer for bittering is from the 11th century. Before this period, brewers used a wide variety of bitter herbs and flowers. Nowadays hops are used extensively in brewing. They are used to balance the sweetness of the malt with bitterness.
The majority of UK hops are grown in Kent, but many hop varieties are grown world wide. Bittering hops have higher concentrations of alpha acids, and are responsible for the large majority of the bitter flavor of a beer. The impact of a given amount of hops is specified in International Bitterness Units (IBUs). The hops added later in the brewing process are for flavor and aroma. The terms used to describe these flavours may include “grassy”, “floral”, “citrus”, “spicy”, “piney,” “lemony,” and “earthy”.
Yeast is a particularly important ingredient in brewing as it is this which turns the wort into beer. The fermentation process turns the sugars extracted from the malt into alcohol. The yeast type chosen will determine flavour in the beer, it can help with good attenuation (the amount of extract converted by fermentation).
It needs to be flocculent enough to easily separate from the beer at the end of fermentation when racking the beer into casks.